Five years is a long time between albums, but after 20 years as a band, Teenage Fanclub has certainly earned the right to take their time. It’s been an interesting wait, however, because of their last effort (2005’s Man-Made) which saw the group slowly moving towards a softer destination with their classicist power pop. Gone are the days of cracking noise raves like “Everything Flows” or even electrified sing-alongs like “Sparky’s Dream.” Man-Made showcased the band’s music funneled through the production aesthetics of Chicago post-rock courtesy of producer John McEntire and it worked, though fans hoping for a return even to Songs From Northern Britain were bound to be somewhat disappointed.
Now comes Shadows, the band’s eighth full length and second for American label Merge. First, the production aesthetics are still largely there. The record, admittedly, does sound, at times, like the Sea and Cake covering Teenage Fanclub songs. But this is not simply the second coming of Man-Made. Shadows is full of songs, especially in its masterful middle section, that take controlled power pop and lace it not only with echoes of the band’s louder past, but even deeper back from within the rock & roll pantheon than their traditional pop influences. A perfect example of the latter is lead single “Baby Lee.” Sounding like a lost Roy Orbison song, it takes a steady pace and cleanly strummed guitars and creates a harmony rich, string-tinged gem. Meanwhile, “Sweet Days Waiting” mines the reverb rich Wall of Sound for its languid, maudlin ache.
The album’s opening three songs, while all solid, hardly tear themselves far from the mold of Man-Made, so it’s a pleasant surprise when “Into the City” enters the picture and kicks off a stretch of five songs that anchor the album so perfectly. The tandem of “Shock and Awe” and “When I Still Have Thee” are especially graceful in giving the album the subdued fuzz and guitar leads of the former and note-perfect balladry of the latter.
Taking the long view, Shadows is just another addition to the formidable legacy of a group that deserves a pretty high place in rock & roll’s league of enduring bands. The consistent quality with which they have created music over the past two decades is simply astounding and looks to be continuing for the foreseeable future. words/ j neas
MP3: Teenage Fanclub :: Baby Lee